Yesterday’s horrific massacre at the office of a Parisian newspaper highlighted many sad and frightening aspects about our world. One of them, writes The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff, is the ease with which young radical Islamists are able to travel between Europe and the Middle East, and the difficulty intelligence agencies have in tracking them:
Wednesday’s terror attack in Paris, foul as it was, was sadly no great surprise given the movement of Islamist terrorists between Europe and the Middle East.
The Israeli intelligence community currently estimates that there are some 30,000 Islamic State activists; the CIA puts the number anywhere between 20,000 and 31,500. About half of them are foreign volunteers from around the Islamic world and the West. The Magreb states, surprisingly, are the most prominent suppliers, notably including Shiite Tunisia, where 5,000-6,000 IS fighters come from. Thousands have joined IS in Iraq and Syria from Europe, Australia and the United States. Within Europe, Belgium heads the list of suppliers.
Europes’s problem, and this may well have been the case with the massacre in France, is the relative ease with which young Muslims can leave Western countries, join the ranks of IS in Syria and Iraq, and then go back to their homes and attack targets there. It’s an almost impossible mission for European intelligence agencies to track every Muslim youth who goes to the Middle East and then returns home or to a neighboring country with the goal of murdering “infidels.”
Apart from tracking this flow, Western intelligence agencies have another challenge, no less complex. Islamic State is inspiring many youngsters to carry out attacks without first coming to the Middle East. These potential assailants have not fought with IS or spent time in another Muslim state, but make do with getting hold of weapons in their home countries and going out to commit attacks. Thwarting these kinds of attacks must be a nightmare for the intelligence services.